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Vietnam - December 2003
Photo Album

Mui Ne Beach, Vietnam
Jet lag so sweet
Allows me to meet
Spectacular sunrises
Fishing boats of all sizes
Tinted purple, orange, red
As they slowly tread
Casting nets
Placing bets
And so much more
Along the shore
Beaches extend for miles
Dotted with smiles
And cute bungalows
Where a pretty garden grows
The surf crashes loud
Drowning away sound
But those waves breaking on shore
Leave me so sore
Like I tumbled through a washing machine
That's angry and mean
But once past that hurdle
I'm a happy turtle
Water so warm
Swell in rare form

More on Mui Ne
It's so nice and peaceful here. Sunrise and sunset are beautiful times of day. We are staying in a bungalow right on the beach, one story up, with a terrace. We couldn't have asked for a better location! It's perfect. We really like Mui Ne Beach. It's about 200 km east of Ho Chi Minh City, and 10-20 km east of the town of Phan Thiet, and near a small fishing village. We're on a very long stretch of white sand with palm trees, very cute bungalows and small low-rise hotels and restaurants. It's so nice - no touts here selling their wares - just a few massage ladies roaming the beach, lots of good/simple restaurants, tons of motorbikes cruising the main road, very bad music, and loud crashing waves (fortunately to block out the bad music and sound of motorbikes).

Mui Ne is also known for its enormous sand dunes which are a short motorbike ride from the beach area where we are. It's a bit odd to leave the beach, head to the dunes, and then feel like you are in the middle of blazing hot sand desert. We are told that these dunes protect Mui Ne's microclimate and that even during the wet season, the rains tend to be about half of what nearby Phan Thiet gets.

We have met some really nice people that made the trip especially fun. In particular, a German couple Heiner and Annetta, whose company we enjoyed immensely. They have traveled so much and have shared some great future kiting spots with us - especially in South America. We also met Theresa and Steve, from the Midwest, who have been traveling and living around the world for 15 years, teaching at international schools in places like Egypt, Cameroon, Mali, Honduras, and Taiwan. They have also been a good source of future travel and kiting information for us. And then there was Ang - the North Korean who lives in Japan. He was the entertainment for all of us as he is incredibly outgoing, spoke only a few words of English, yet tried constantly to have conversations with us - always in a powerful, almost yelling voice! "Oooh… today wind. Big wind! Afternoon small kite! Big wind! Small kite!" Heiner has taken the perfect pictures to go with the conversation. Chris and Heiner could spend 1.5 hours in conversation with him at the bar about fascinating subjects such as his work, North Korea, Japan, sex (they think) and then they left not actually being certain of what they talked about. I'm so glad we met some cool people and had good entertainment as the wind was quite disappointing a lot of the time we were there. And, evenings in Mui Ne are pretty quiet!

Getting to Mui Ne
It is easiest to fly to Ho Chi Minh City and take a bus or a taxi to Mui Ne Beach. I think the buses are only about $4, but we arrived in Ho Chi Minh at midnight with over 100 pounds of kiting gear, so we took a mini-van taxi, which was still only $60. It's a 3.5 hour drive from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne.

Where to Stay
There are a lot of places to stay - way more than we expected. It turns out that this beach area is on the backpackers' route so it is fairly transient with travelers stopping in for a couple of days at a time. It seems that most people do not pre-book rooms, but we found that rooms filled up enough this time of year that travelers often had to stay one night somewhere, and then move somewhere else the next night, so pre-booking a room is probably a good idea. It didn't cost any more to pre-book a room as it did to walk up (although I imagine this will change in time among other things). Most places looked cute from the outside, but were probably pretty simple inside. Low end rates range from $10 to $25/night. Moderate places range from $25-$50/night and high end ranges from $50-$150 and most include "continental breakfast".

Our room at "Full Moon" was $40/night which included a simple breakfast of bread, jam, and tea or coffee, although you can order other great stuff off the menu too. No one can build large hotels here on the beach so most places have only 5-20 rooms. Full Moon is owned by Frenchman, Pascal, and his Vietnamese wife, Phuong. Pascal also owns Jibes, the windsurf/kiting operation that is almost next door. This has been very convenient and we'd probably stay here again if we return. Our bungalow is very simple; no AC, but no need for it, usually warm shower water, electricity outages a couple of times a day but nothing too inconvenient. We especially loved the second story terrace just over the water. Another really nice bonus to staying here is that they allow us to store all of our kiting gear at Jibes.

Jibes - Windsurfing, Kiteboarding, Surfing
Jibes is the water-sports haven on Mui Ne Beach. They rent out brand new windsurfing gear, surfboards, and give kiteboard lessons. They also have a really good restaurant and bar and it seems to be the only semi "happening" place on the strip. They had a fantastic party on New Years Eve and I think every young person staying in the beach area came for that. We had no idea that many people were around! Right now they have three or four guys who teach kiting, and if a good windsurfer is around for a while (which seems to happen quite frequently) there is usually someone to teach windsurfing as well. They employ four Vietnamese "beach boys" who are awesome - helping pump up the kites, helping you launch and land, and they wash put away the gear at the end of the day. They'll even come out on a windsurfer and rescue you or your board if you run into trouble. It is pretty amazing that they offer this service. They seem to do it for everyone that is around there (for free - although hopefully everyone tips them). Over time I suspect they'll only be able to do it for those staying at Full Moon and those taking lessons with them. They are doing the best they can to keep the beach and people safe.

There are two other places along this beach that seem to have some water sports stuff as well - The Sailing Club and Coco Beach. I'm not really sure what they both have in the way of gear though. The Sailing Club looks pretty nice for those not into rustic accommodations.

Supposedly the dry season of October through April brings relatively strong consistent winds in Mui Ne. The rainy season (which isn't supposed to be all that rainy in Mui Ne) also has wind, but lighter and blowing in the opposite direction. Unfortunately there were some storms before we arrived and the wind patterns were really off. We didn't have good wind our first week and the second week was okay, but winds were pretty gusty and a couple of afternoons really strong. I actually kited underpowered on a 16 meter kite one afternoon, and the next day was out on an 8 meter kite, and then switched to a 6 meter kite! Crazy. I guess it can blow 30-40 knots here during the high season and that isn't too uncommon. We have also been told the large waves we've had are atypical - that the storms are causing them - although we did just talk to someone who said they had these same waves last December as well. And our guidebook says that the surf's up from August to December. Some days these were more than six-foot high waves breaking at the shore. If not for that, I'd say that the conditions here are good for beginners, with light side-on shore winds starting around 10am and stronger side-shore winds in the afternoon. There is a relatively wide beach, but with the waves, getting out past the shore break is challenging for both kiters and windsurfers. In the afternoons when the wind really started to blow, the waves got pretty big and there is a nice swell a ways out. Fortunately the "beach boys" working at Jibes will help swim out the windsurfers for those who don't know how to get them through the shore break. We were also told that it has been unusually cool for this time of year and that it is normally much warmer. I wish I would have brought some warmer clothes for the evenings! I've had a jacket on every night and was wishing for one more pair of pants.

Food, Food Food…
Oh so yummy
In my tummy
Lemongrass and chili
Noodles make me silly
Dragons soft and sweet
The sun warms my seat
Gentle winds flow
We beg them to grow…

Hmmm… Maybe I read too many Dr. Seuss books as a kid? The food here is very good. It's like eating Zao at (one of my favorite eateries in Palo Alto) three times a day, and everything is so fresh (no Luna bars here!). A typical meal is about 15,000 - 45,000 dong - the equivalent of US$1.00- US$3.00.

Yum…. fresh squeezed orange juice, blended mango juice, vegetable soups, amazing seafood noodle soups with fresh shrimp and squid, pho with the yummiest rice noodles, seafood prepared with lemongrass and chili and other wonderful flavors, and bananas, mangos, pineapple, and - oh, have you heard of dragon fruit? It's funky - purple on the outside with spikes, the inside is white with tiny black eatable seeds. It's similar in texture to kiwi and sort of similar in flavor. There are also plenty of other western options like omelets, sandwiches, pasta, and when you are feeling riced and noodled out, there are two decent Italian restaurants on the strip here with Italian owners who import some of their ingredients from Italy. They even have some cheap but decent wine!

Getting Around
It is so easy staying here along Mui Ne Beach as there are a zillion restaurants within walking distance to everything, but the strip is fairly long, so if you want to go somewhere further away, you can just walk out on the street and jump on the back of a motorbike. There are guys on motorbikes that will stop as soon as they see you want to go somewhere. They charge 5000 dong to take you somewhere nearby (US$ .35) It is 50,000 dong (US$3.00) to get a ride into Phan Thiet which is 15 km away. You can also rent your own motorbike for US$5.00 a day. We did this a few times and had a ball. They don't even ask for a passport or money or anything in advance. Everyone seems to trust everyone here. Even at the windsurf/kiting center - people just leave their stuff around and it doesn't get taken. This seems pretty rare. We also felt very comfortable leaving expensive cameras and cash in our room. Hopefully they'll be able to preserve this atmosphere.

Motorbikes…
This land of motorbikes
Far outnumbers kites
Do they breed them here?
They're as prevalent as beer!
They even carry a tune…
Zoom, rrrrroom, brrrrrrooooom
Jamming up the roads
Carrying enormous loads
Like families of four
Or a huge double door
We joined in on the fun
And rode into the sun
First to the sand dune
As barren as the moon
Then through a town
Where I felt like a clown
Kids point and bellow
Hello, hello, HELLO
Adventures galore
I'm ready for more
Except my butt is so sore….

Side Notes - Guitar Shops and Hospitals
…are best avoided but do provide excellent adventures. The day we arrived I realized I had not packed my guitar tuner, so I hopped on a motorbike and went into the town of Phan Thiet with a non-English speaking driver. I was told there would be about 5 guitar shops (this is a town of about 100,000 people). Well, after two hours of driving around searching, we found all the shops, and each had a few old guitars hanging from the ceiling in a back corner. No one spoke English - I used a lot of sign language - but that didn't seem to work or perhaps they just didn't understand the concept of tuning a guitar with something other than your ear, although someone did pull out something that looked like a stethoscope thinking that was what I wanted. I'm still not sure what that was… Well, I wish I had the tuning by ear skill down, but not yet. Finally, as I was about to give up, I saw a Yamaha keyboard shop and we stopped there. Again, the communication was so difficult, and we didn't seem to get anywhere. I said "tuner" a few times and tried playing a bit of charades and was about to give up when a guy pulled out a fancy electronic Yamaha tuner to tune someone else's guitar! I went a bit crazy and he was so surprised when he realized that was what I wanted. "Tuna tuna" he yelled, perhaps correcting my pronunciation. Oh, yes of course… It was his only one and I begged him to sell it to me. I lucked out… Well, the experience was entertaining overall, especially for my first few hours in Vietnam, and quite an adventure cruising around this busy little town where I thought I'd be hit by another motorbike at any second, but somehow they all seem to avoid each other! Not a helmet in sight…

So, we're not sure what happened to Chris exactly, but I guess it's just one of those typical kiting injuries where his leash or fin or something cut into his leg. It isn't a large wound but it was really deep. Actually, it looked like he got shot and someone had pulled a bullet out - it was that deep! We took a trip to the hospital in Phan Thiet - an open air facility with a few rooms and an upstairs that we didn't see. He ended up in the room labeled "minor operation" and I can say for sure that if it had been anything other than minor, we'd probably have been on a plane to Bangkok or back to the states! But they did a fantastic job stitching him up and he thinks he saw them take all of the needles they used out of new, sealed packages. Not a word of English, but everyone was so nice and the entire doctor visit, including the huge bag of pills they gave him to take (2 antibiotics plus pain killers plus nutritional supplements) was about $35.00. No one could explain what any of the drugs were so we thank the Internet for that! Oh, and Heiner and Annetta, who both work at pharmaceutical companies in Germany! Heiner also experienced a visit to the hospital after almost blowing out his ear drum with a major kite crash. He came back with almost the same bag of pills:-) Chris' follow-up visit the next day was about $1.00. I think he had an even more interesting adventure when he took a motorbike into the closer, smaller town of Mui Ne, to get some clean bandages. Everyone wanted to take off his bandage and check out the wound (including his Motorbike driver)! He finally managed to communicate, before they unraveled his bandage, that he just wanted supplies. They were almost free.

Ho Chi Minh
We only spent one day in Ho Chi Minh City, but that was the right amount of time there. We did a lot… and sucked in years worth of pollution. This city is so bustling - full of activity and energy. No matter where we were in the city, that was the sense we had. Most notable was our visit to the War Remnants Museum. Oh, I don't even know how to describe this. I wish all Americans, or really anyone, could see this for the impact of how terrible war is. I realize it is very biased and one-sided since it is the North Vietnamese rendition of the story, but it still makes an important and strong impact. So many times I wanted to cry just as I read the accounts and saw photos of the atrocities of this war. We also went to the Cu Chi Tunnels, which are pretty amazing. There were more than 250 km of this underground tunnel network created by the Vietnamese - first during the French war in the 1940's and then significantly expanded during the American war, to protect people and facilitate their communications and control of that area. Can you believe they even have a shooting range where you can shoot many of the old military guns? Chris signed up to shoot an AK-47 and hit everything he shot at (pictures of animals). I'm so not a fan of guns, but since it was loaded up, I had to at least take a few shots as well. Our drive out to the Cu Chi Tunnels was also pretty interesting. We randomly picked a taxi to take us there who we later realized didn't really know how to get there. The 45 minute drive turned into 1.5 hours each way but it was cool as we took back roads and drove through a number of interesting neighborhoods, markets, etc. We also visited the Fine Arts Museum (mildly interesting) and several art galleries and antique shops (mildly interesting). I've heard the art scene is pretty good in Ho Chi Minh so I wish we had done more research on this in advance. We had a couple of really good meals too at on-the-street-type places.

It was a good trip overall and we do hope to see a lot more of Vietnam in the future.

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